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No red carpet for patented software

No red carpet for patented software

The extensive use of open software in Kerala was part of the IT policy of the Left government formulated in 2007, based on the principle of democratization of knowledge. Such policy and programmes initiated by the government under the leadership of VS Achuthanandan government, in solidarity with the free software movements in different parts of the world, and making them part of the IT policy of Kerala. This also formed a political alternative to the monopolization in the field of information technology.

Enterprises such as International Centre for Free Software and Computing for Development were started as part of that IT policy. As an eminent forum for the battle against the conglomerates who had tight reins on the key IT domains, such initiatives joining hands with the free software movements functioning internationally, received huge acceptance. The use of free software in the fields of e-governance and education was in line with this policy. When it won the active support of IT activist collectives like free Malayalam computing, the state was stepping into a revolutionary change. That was how government establishments like the secretariat, the nerve centre of administration and public educational institutions via the IT @School project became the platforms of a successful experiment. Even those including none other than Richard Stallman did give sky-high praise for this IT revolution.

The State IT policy stipulates that resort to patented software should be made only if free software is not available not exist in any field. There is also the rule that special permission is to be obtained when patented software is purchased. But the circular now issued by the government that permits any one who wants, to purchase ‘Windows 10’ at a fixed special price, throws to the wind all those principles. This per se is a retraction from the IT policy of the government, and in another sense corruption. It has to be observed that this also gives a body blow to the achievements of the state in the matter of free software over the last decade. True, on many occasions the official lobby used to point out the ‘limitations’ of free software in order to sideline them. Those limitations have been so far overcome many times by the free software used here. Not only that, they do prove better with quality performance far higher than patented software. If in spite of all this, it is the love for ‘Windows’ that drives bureaucracy, what can that be called other than spreading the red carpet to patented software?

What gives relevance to free software is not the fact that it replaces patented software with indigenous and relatively cheap software, but also the alternative ideology it puts forward. The concept of ‘ownership’ in the field of information technology is very complex, as even knowledge is monopolized there. Even if we buy and use a programme of Microsoft, that company continues to be the owner of that system. Further, with its installation in our computers it establishes its supremacy. Nor does that company give us permission to make changes we feel necessary in its source code. This may put us in a bind in several ways. And it has already been proven that by downloading many mobile apps, precious data including private information are leaked. Those like Richard Stallman have pointed out that learning using patented software make children slaves in one sense. Educational institutions may not have the financial resources to purchase new versions whenever they are released almost every year. In that situation, software piracy will be the only course left. How desirable would it be for children to buy such unauthorized versions? This is where free software becomes relevant. It is a mechanism wherein educational institutions themselves can develop them, or have the permission to do so. What free software does is not to control pieces of knowledge but share them. Patented software on the other hand annihilates such shared knowledge completely.

It is too early to forget the cyber attack of WannaCry in 150 countries last year. The attack that targeted 2.3 lakhs Windows-based computers has raised many questions about such 'patents'. This particular cyber attack claiming a ransom by holding computers hostage, was a big challenge to those who worked solely dependent on such monopolicies. Not only that, the nexus between the patent organizations and the security agencies in different countries has also been unravelled by now. Technology companies who use free software for their own uses, were relatively free from such attacks. Given these facs, if the bureaucrats still run after monopolies, the government has an obligations to check them. If we need continuity in the progress we have made in IT sector, such an intervention is essential.

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